No if they’d only rule against the Patriot Act and other invasions of privacy and police state activities.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.
[…]
“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.
[…]
It was that question — society’s expectation of privacy in a modern world — that had animated the court’s consideration of the case. In an intense hour-long oral argument last November, the Big Brother of George Orwell’s novel “1984” was referenced six times. The justices pondered a world in which satellites can zero in on an individual’s house, cameras can record the faces at a crowded intersection and individuals can instantly announce their every movement to the world on Facebook. They wondered about the government placing tracking devices in overcoats or on license plates.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the decision also should have settled some of those questions instead of deciding a case about a “21st-century surveillance technique” by using “18th-century tort law.”



  1. bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and Junior Parry Mason says:

    Thank goodness and what a surprise. Very few unanimous decisions that aren’t quite obviously correct.

    Can anybody think of a unanimous case that is wrong?

    • Skeptic: Post # ≥1 says:

      What is the difference between planting a GPS, and old-fashioned detective work following a suspect around while keeping out of sight (peering out from behind a newspaper)?

      Times have changed and technology has just made hard tasks easier. Pretty soon there won’t be any newspapers to hide behind.

      • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and lover of all things Techno says:

        The difference is you have a constitutional privacy right in your person, property, and effects which includes cars while there is no privacy right against being observed in public.

        The “task” here is not “being observed” but having your protectable privacy violated.

        Big difference.

        The difference between living free vs surviving in anarchy.

        • Skeptic: Post # ≥1 says:

          We are hardly living free… even here in Canada. We are owned. You can’t opt out of anything unless you want to live on the street with nothing to your name.

          We can “own” a house, but if I fall on hard times I can’t opt out of police protection, fire protection, and all other reasons for taxation/extortion. They will simply take my house. (My city taxes are $5400/year.) In that sense, I don’t really own my house and land unless I can pay “protection” money.

          So if the guvment wants to put a tracker on my/their car what’s the difference if they are following my car everywhere I go, 20 feet off my rear bumper. It’s just semantics.

          • Animby - Just Phoning It In says:

            It’s a shame you give up so easily. One big difference in GPS tracking and being surveilled is that GPS tracking is so easy it can be done at the drop of a hat and little expense. Assigning a team requires someone to actually think about whether the activity justifies the expense.

            Think, also. If it does not constitute a search then what is to keep your insurance company from popping a GPS tracker under the hood? Or your employer?

            And, I expect, like traffic cameras, it would soon have become so prevalent that it would be outsourced to private contractors.

            A slippery slope, indeed, and it’s really sad you are so willing to just give up any thoughts of privacy, i.e. freedom.

          • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas. says:

            While Animby admirably went to the heart of the issue, I find myself still mesmerized by the semantics of your position. Not to be redundant, you say: “It’s just semantics.”

            What does “It’s just semantics.” really mean? – – – words. Just words.

            Is the difference between FREEEEEEDOM and SLAVERY just semantics?

            Your notion that police, fire, sanitation, schools, water, electricity must be provided to your house for FREE or you don’t own your house is quite illustrative of mindless LIEberTARDism. To call these vital, necessary, and unavoidable realities of life a protection racket does a disservice to “semantics.” Words have meaning.

            You do demonstrate a bit more rationality than the garden variety LIEberTARD though ((are you reading Loser?–Ha, ha.===Will continue to claim he is not as evidenced by never responding, but semantically speaking==what is expressed avoidance but the deepest attention?)) You choose to OWN A HOUSE together with the SLAVERY of maintaining a water tight roof, lawn mowed in front, no more than two vehicles on jacks with the wheels removed, no open fires in the living room, and the obligation of paying local taxes===all as opposed to paying all those same fees through NOT owning a home and paying rent to someone else or being homeless.

            Existentially, and really, it is your choice if you have choices to make.

            What in the Universe makes you think you “should” have a house free from all other social restraints?

            But, you don’t care about words, what they mean, the ideas they express–so Animby has the better response.

            Just call me Avis, but I’m not really trying all that hard, but there is more than one issue fairly presented.

      • Skeptic: Post # ≥1 says:

        Animby, Bobbo, I don’t expect to be given anything for free. I said that I can’t opt out… meaning I can’t ask NOT to be protected and therefore not pay the dues.

        As for putting GPS bugs everywhere, the yang to that will be GPS jamners for sale on on ebay.

        I haven’t given up, but I realize that there is realistically no way out . It’s the nature of the beast… the beast being human. Another word for it is ‘the rat race’.

        • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas. says:

          Ha, ha—the roller coaster ride continues. Semantics: the difference between wanting something for free or alternatively to “opt out?”

          I think the same thing when I am required to pay for garbage pickup even though I hardly use it and don’t use it at all when on vacation. Oh the HORROR of the SLAVERY of owning a home and having to pay for unsued services that I don’t want and don’t need and can do without.

          Its at time like these that I think about being a gallery slave on a roman war ship, or a welsh miner, or being dumb enough to be a registered Puke.

          Life can always be better or worse than it is. Its good to recognize the comfort of your own zone.

          Yea, verily.

          • Skeptic: Post # ≥1 says:

            Bobbo, I’ve worked hard all my life, and paid for everything I have. I don’t owe anyone any money except the monthly payout for living in a city. The screws are tightening every day since I got leukemia. I am tired all the time and have trouble doing even freelance work. I have 3 kids, two in university ($22,000/year) that the pay as much as they can for and I help with. My drugs are $52,000 / year. My wife took a retail job at 56 and is making $9.000/ year. I have a nice house on the edge of town that I worked f’king hard for, and I’d like to live out my last days while living here. My savings are being depleted faster than you can say shit, and all the while the city is shitting away money on frivolous crap and lining their own pockets … nothing new there, eh?

            So someday soon I won’t be able to pay the piper and I will have to sell or they will take what’s theirs. It’s all relative to where you are standing.

            So yeah, when the guvment or whoever wants to stick it to me some more with GPS… it’s nothing new, par for the course… and fuck them all to hell.

            The alternative is to live 1000 miles from the nearest road and fend for yourself… sounds good to me… but they will find you anyway, and find a way to make you pay. I can’t do that of course… I’m done for. But you know the system stinks from top to bottom. If only once I could go to the voting booth and not see a list of fucking liars to vote for!

          • Skeptic: Post # ≥1 says:

            Um sorry about all that blathering Bobbo. I’m a little more irrational than usual these days. I shouldn’t have unloaded all that on you and anyone else who happens to be digging this far back in the posts. The guv didn’t make me ill. I should just stick to posting bad jokes to laugh at and cheer me up. Sheesh.

  2. orchidcup says:

    The police had obtained a warrant for GPS surveillance of Jones, but it expired before they attached the device to his car.

    According to the referenced article, the police had obtained a warrant but it expired before the GPS was attached to the suspect’s vehicle.

    The decision of the Supreme Court only affirms what was already true.

    The larger question that the Justices avoided was how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

    Scalia’s majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, said the electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on Jones’s property, may have been “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

    But Scalia added: “The present case does not require us to answer that question.

  3. scandihoovian says:

    This is pure drivel, unless you applying this conceptual ruling to a car built before 2001. Every new car these days comes with GPS (enabled by default) which allows for continuous tracking of an individual’s vehicle with ‘implied consent’. The fact it is a private company (willing to give your info to the government with the slightest request) gives me no reassurance of privacy.

    • orchidcup says:

      That is the question the Justices avoided in their ruling.

      However, Justice Scalia indicated in his remarks that the court may view electronic surveillance without having to physically trespass as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

      But we don’t know for sure, because the present case did not require the court to answer that question.

      The court sidestepped the issue.

    • dusanmal says:

      Nonsense. Maybe some companies like GM do tend to push OnStar and similar as default options but even those you can “delete” at the purchase time or completely remove by yourself. Majority of cars sold today DO NOT have built in GPS as default option. Yes, you can be suckered in to buy navigation system – there you enter territory of “consumer beware”.

      • scandihoovian says:

        I think a correction should be, the majority of new cars today do not have the GUI interface of GPS enabled in their vehicle. Why would a car not come with that technology as a standard if the situation someday arises, the user wanted to turn it on? It’s the same reason DirecTV leaves the satellite dish on your house when you move. Or the cell phone you bought has GPS capability on it but you’ve opted out. That doesn’t mean with a warrant the cops can’t hunt your ass down using GPS, just because you’ve chosen not to use the features.

        • tcc3 says:

          You show a shocking lack of understanding of GPS technology.

          Adjust your hat, sir. The tinfoil is showing.

  4. bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and Junior Parry Mason says:

    Orchi–its a good thing that the Supremes UNANIMOUSLY support what we all agree is the right decision. They so often don’t: Gore v Bush, United Citizens, Eminent Domain, International Email and Phone Monitoring.

    Does everyone know that the “law is” that after 18 months, the Feds can access all your email stored on servers without a warrant or notice to you? I don’t know why that would be true–treating old mail as if it was in the garbage, but I did read that.

    But the issue you raise about expectations of privacy in the coming singularity is a good one. Are you thinking of anything more specific?

    • dusanmal says:

      “UNANIMOUSLY” is a stretch. On particular case they acted in such a way. In general Conservatives minus Alito plus Sotomayor assumed privacy. Liberals minus Sotomayor plus Alito in descent published that police should have such powers. 5:4, strongly on political lines, though not completely.

  5. bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and lover of all things Techno says:

    Scandi–I don’t believe all cars made today have gps. Not even as a factory option. It could easily be the case in the near future though. Now–a black box that records your speed and brake pedal position for 30 secs before a crash?===Maybe so. Not hard to fit those things into all the computers/boards already extant in our cars today: more computing power than landed us on the moon.

    The singularity—its there====I feel the tug.

  6. scandihoovian says:

    Here’s your proof. Saying they’ve reversed their plan doesn’t mean shit to me.

    “GM subsidiary OnStar has reversed course on a planned change to its privacy policies that would have let it collect and share GPS tracking and other data from vehicles — even after their users stopped subscribing to OnStar service.”

    http://computerworld.com/s/article/9220337/OnStar_reverses_course_on_controversial_GPS_tracking_plans

    • orchidcup says:

      This is precisely why I would never subscribe to the OnStar service.

      A corporation can (and does) change its privacy policies after a user has subscribed to the service, and they can do this without your express consent.

      I also do not subscribe to Facebook or other social media for the same reason.

      When you place your privacy in the hands of a corporation, you have given up your privacy.

  7. LibertyLover says:

    Kudos for a correct decision. I’m shocked, I say, Shocked!

    Everybody has a cell phone with them these days and it takes a warrant to get that information. This is just confirmation that they can’t track you ambiguously.

    No if they’d only rule against the Patriot Act and other invasions of privacy and police state activities.

    Bingo. Although, it might be easier to get cases under these thrown out based on the merits of this case (notice I said easier and not easy).

    • orchidcup says:

      Everybody has a cell phone with them these days and it takes a warrant to get that information. This is just confirmation that they can’t track you ambiguously.

      Your assumption is not correct. Read my previous posts.

      The court avoided answering the larger question of an expectation of privacy in regard to modern technology.

      Read the remarks of Justice Scalia very carefully:

      Scalia’s majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, said the electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on Jones’s property, may have been “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”

      But Scalia added: “The present case does not require us to answer that question.”

      The court achieved nothing new in this ruling, they simply affirmed a condition that was already true.

  8. orchidcup says:

    Let’s look at Justice Sotomayor’s remarks in order to clarify the court’s ruling:

    The key to the court’s more narrow decision on the case seemed to be Sotomayor. She praised Alito’s “incisively” written concurrence but indicated it might not have gone far enough.

    “People reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the court of carrying out mundane tasks,” Sotomayor wrote. Perhaps people come to see a “diminution of privacy” as inevitable, Sotomayor said.

    “I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year.”

    But, she said, “resolution of these difficult questions” is unnecessary because she agreed with the majority that the government’s “physical intrusion on Jones’ Jeep” supplies a narrower avenue to decide the case.

    In other words, the Justices did not rule on the larger question of whether the police would be required to obtain a warrant to track a person’s cell phone, for example. They narrowly focused on the question of the physical intrusion on Jones’s Jeep.

    The police were operating under a warrant that had expired. The Justices merely affirmed that a warrant was required in this case. Nothing to see here.

  9. Mextli: ABO says:

    Here is a good article on black boxes in cars. I did not know they had been installed since the mid-1990s.

    Automotive ‘black boxes’ raise privacy issues
    http://tinyurl.com/3dbaphx

    “Beginning with the 2011 model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires that automakers state in the vehicle owner’s manual whether a recorder is installed and where it is located.”

    • orchidcup says:

      Here is the scary part of the referenced article:

      It doesn’t always take a wired connection to access the data. Beginning with the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors will be able to upload the information from the recorders wirelessly through the OnStar system included on most of the automaker’s vehicles.
      And Biller said his organization has heard of possible transponder-style readers that could upload the data just by coming close to a vehicle that is equipped with special technology similar to that used by automated toll-collection systems.
      “It’s a valuable tool for insurance companies,” said Buddy Oakes, a Columbia-based insurance claims adjuster. “If there is no way to tell right away what happened in an accident, sometimes we request permission from the vehicle owner or through the court to extract the data, which gives us the last 15 seconds of activity before the impact.
      “It shows how fast the car was going, how hard it was being braked, what evasive moves were made. We’ve had people say they were sitting still at a stoplight and got hit, when the data recorder shows they were doing 30 mph through the intersection.”

      Now we know who is behind this black box initiative.

      Why would car manufacturers be interested in installing black boxes on their vehicles? There is nothing in it for the manufacturer.

      Is this a government mandated “safety feature?” I doubt it.

      The insurance companies are behind this initiative somehow.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Let me see if I got this right:

    It is OK to conduct full invasive body cavity searches of complete strangers – including children – with no possible motives other than wanting to fly on a private airplane to go see grandma.

    It’s not OK to place tracking devices on potential criminals who might drive it into buildings or other public areas or even even loaded planes! The Supreme Court has unanimously decreed that no one can track an individual’s property – in public – even though there may be “justifiable” reasons to do so.

    Just checking.

    Seems to me that the Supreme Court would grant us more rights if we were actual luggage than as actual American citizens.

    • orchidcup says:

      The Supreme Court has unanimously decreed that no one can track an individual’s property – in public – even though there may be “justifiable” reasons to do so.

      Not correct.

      The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police are required to obtain a valid warrant before they trespass on private property and attach a GPS tracking device on a private vehicle.

      The police had acquired a warrant in this case, but they had allowed the warrant to expire during the course of the investigation. The court affirmed that a valid warrant was required in this case.

      This ruling is not as important as some people think.

    • Animby - Just Phoning It In says:

      While I think the TSA searches are over-reaching and certainly of no reasonable effect, there is a BIG difference between surveillance and preventive measures.

  11. msbpodcast says:

    All cars should be WiFi connected to the internet all of the time and they should drive themselves.

    Who knows what we can get up to when we don’t have to do anything but shout “Home Jeeves!

    And I don’t care if the damn thing looks like a Borg cube on wheels.

  12. LibertyLover says:

    I think we are saying the same thing . . .

    The cell phone records are not on your property. The records are in possession of the cell phone company . . . But the popo still need a warrant to get them. That’s already been litigated.

    • orchidcup says:

      Your cell phone records are actually the property of your cell phone provider.

      Some records can be obtained without your knowledge by subpoena, others require a court order.

      It gets rather complicated regarding your private information that is retained by third parties.

      In addition to being able to use wiretaps to intercept your communications while they are being transmitted, the government has a variety of ways of getting (1) records about your communications and (2) the content of communications that you have stored with a third party. In particular, the government can get all of the records that your ISP, phone company, or other communications service providers have on you, and the SMS messages, instant messages, emails or voice-mails you’ve stored with them. However, unlike regular third-party records discussed above, which can be subpoenaed without any notice to you, the records of your communications providers are given some extra protection by the “Stored Communications Act” portion of the “Electronic Communications Privacy Act”, or ECPA.

      So what can the government get?

      Here is an informative guide that outlines the myriad laws involved:

      Information Stored By Third Parties

  13. JimD, Boston, MA says:

    Detroit will build tracking into your car and the Cops and your Insurance company will have access – so YOU ARE SCREWED !!! Get a Model T and travel without “big brother” looking over your shoulder !!!

  14. Uncle Patso says:

    The recent Progressive Insurance ads about “Snapshot” discounts for automobile insurance are actually about a device they give you to plug into your car’s “black box.”

    A brief review from CNET:

    http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-20045433-48.html

  15. Glenn E. says:

    They probably don’t need to plant a dedicated GPS device. Just use cell towers to triangulate your position. Or plant a regular RF tracer, like a LoJac. But it makes for good PR to say that the court seems to be protecting us from this slight privacy intrusion. While plenty of other covert intrusion is Ok with the court. Thanks for nothing.

  16. guptil says:

    You’re already doing a great job with the website and the blog. I love the content here and I’m always glad to come back and read some toughts on photography – be it gear, shooting or something else, loved the recent video for Samsung. I love that it isn’t a gear review site. I’d suggest you keep doing what you are and adding some odd piece of gear you found interesting and think people don’t know enough about or don’t use it enough or in the right way.
    If someone wants a review there are already sites that do them and are doing only that. This site isn’t that and it should never be.It’s not like it’s hard to find a review today for anything.


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